Friday, January 7, 2011

second time around

As I reviewed/reread my Community 2.0 seminar posts from last semester, and began reflecting on them, I realized that my course from the previous semester, even though at the time it seemed like poorly organized chaos, had a strong foundation. But for the upcoming semester I’d like to reconsider, revise/restructure and replace some of the assignments, their stages and readings. And to begin this process of revamping my ENG101 Masculinities course, I’ll draw on the wonderful feedback I received last semester from my students in their final blog posts.

On the last day of class, I asked my students to post a final post which required that they answer few questions-I borrowed these from Dr. Van's wiki- about the course (which assignments did they enjoy? which they did not enjoy? did they learn anything interesting or new? etc.). The two top activities were the in-class “Worst Date” post and response comments (this was the lesson during which my class was observed) and the debate, which I posted on the class blog as a YouTube video, on whether women or men are more hurt by double standards. The texts most students alluded to in their final post were those by Susan Bordo on portrayal of male models, and double binds of masculinity and, the movie, The Wedding Crashers. Also I was pleasantly surprised to read, that all the students felt blogger was a helpful learning tool for the class; most said that composing drafts, as well as in-class quick writes followed by comments on classmates' posts was fun and enabled them to get to know each other. This was further confirmed as on the day of the final conferences seven students, who did not sit next to each other in class nor spoke to each other very often, told each other they will be in touch via Facebook, and that they will see each other next term. But what was more surprising was that almost all of the eighteen students stated that they often viewed their classmates' blogs in order to get ideas/compare writing assignments. I was absolutely ecstatic when I read this J. Although ideally I would have liked them to leave comments on each other’s work when they viewed each other’s blogs, I’m glad they took advantage of the technology and got to know their classmates via blogger.  Ultimately these were the course objectives: create a community of writers who through working together become better writers. Yet, and here I am drawing on Prof. Smith's point number 8 from Student's wish list, I want my students to realize that each and everyone of them has a unique and important voice, but being a good writer is contingent on knowing one's audience and communicating in a manner which will reach that audience.
Aside from creating a learning community and helping students improve their writing skills, there are several other objectives that I’d like to strive for and accomplish in the Spring semester. These I’ve complied or aligned with those I came across the Education Week’s special report on policy debates in virtual education. Though many of the topics and issues discussed in  Education Week’s  “A Special Report on the Emerging Policy Debates in Virtual Education” are similar to what we have been discussing in the Community 2.0 seminar, it is interesting that educators and researchers, who collaborated on this report, unanimously agree that hybrid courses, or “blended classes” effectively combine traditional classroom learning with e-learning. Blended courses, in most K-12 classes, follow a process which begins in a traditional classroom and transitions to a computer lab; a new concept is introduced by the teacher in a traditional classroom, and on the following day, the class reviews that concept and technology tools/software are incorporated to further explain/clarify the concept, and on the third day, students begin to apply the concept, actively engage with it, in a computer lab (Ash 8). In the “blended classes” the responsibility for knowledge and skill acquisition is a collaborative effort, but since students spend as much as eighty percent of their time in school working in computer labs on individual and group projects, and only twenty percent in a traditional classroom, this approach is much more student centered. And as each student is an individual, who learns in her/his unique way and pace, technology is a means to a successful end. In other words, teachers are able to view students’ work and progress, and identify specific areas in which students demonstrate aptitude or need help- I’ve seen this done in traditional classrooms in I.S. 93 where America’s Choice was implemented, and students sat/worked in groups and their homework assignments were determined based on their specific needs.  John Danner, the co-founder and chief executive of Rocketship Education, an elementary charter school in San Jose, Cali.,  reports that the traditional classroom instruction  works best for the middle 50 percent, while the computer lab/hands-on application challenges and facilitates the learning of the top and bottom quarters (Ash 7).

Thus drawing on my students’ feedback about the course and the Education Week report, here are my course objectives:
1.      Though as I mentioned above I think I have a strong foundation for the course, I’d like to rework the course’s design. One aspect is the stages of the writing assignments, as this was what students enjoyed the least and many simply chose not to complete. This in the end had a significant impact on their grades. This term I’ll give students options to complete a number of pre-writing, organizational, and compilation of research material activities, rather than assign a particular format. I think that by giving them more room for creativity and exploration, they will enjoy the writing process much more and hopefully develop their own writing processes which will help them become more confident writers. Also, I really like the idea mentioned in EdWeek special report regarding assignments and activities geared directly to students’ strengths and weaknesses; I wanted to incorporate this last term, but simply could not find the time to do so. I think it will really help students to work in groups on issues such as sentence structure, MLA format, paragraphing and so on. I’ll try to create the groups by the third or fourth week, and research some time every week for the group to work together on the particular aspect of writing or research. Ann M. and R. Dragan both also mentioned this in their reflections. The marriage between conducting research and doing so responsibly is something that I thought I would be able to help my students with by reviewing certain qualities a reliable source should have and asking them to compose annotated bibliographies, but in fact many students' found this to be the most daunting part of the course :( Also, as Ann notes the clear distinction between reliable and unreliable Internet sources is becoming more and more unclear, or changes on daily basis. No wonder my students get frustrated. So how do I help them?
2.      The group activities actually overlap with the second objective, the course’s learning objectives. I want to make the connections between each of the subsequent assignments as well as the benefits of connecting with another hybrid course much clearer. Particularly the latter as it did not work out so well last semester.
3.      In regard to assessments, while I have several rubrics which I’ll amend to fit the new design of writing assignments and blog assessment, I will use the grade book feature on blogger. I really liked what Prof. Smith did with this feature and would like to do the same for my students. While I’m quite good with getting back to students with feedback-usually the next class meeting after an assignment was due or the same day if a student posts a question on class or her/his blog, and I make comments on students’ drafts using the Microsoft Word feature or Docs in Blogger, the running grade book, or list containing all of the comments and grades for all assignments would allow students to have a better sense of how well they are doing in the course and what they need to improve.
4.      As briefly mentioned above, I’m planning on changing/dropping some of the reading materials. While most of the readings I have used in the past semester are researched and make for great initial sources for research papers, many are more than ten pages long. I think it will work best if I assign only a reading for the day my class meets in the smart classroom, and then when the class meets in a computer lab, have the students work on activities based on that reading. I need to consult other Community 2.0 participants’ syllabi as I might be overloading my students with reading assignments?
5.      As most of my students really liked blogger, and particularly activities which require them to compose a post, and then have their classmates comment on that post and vice versa, I want to take this activity a develop a few variations of it so that it doesn’t become too repetitive and boring. Any suggestions?
6.      Lastly, I’d like to balance the face-to-face and online course components, as well as inquire about the availability of computers on our campus. Last term, Prof. McCormick and Prof. Gallardo gave me contact information regarding the latter, but I just failed to follow up with it. But I really want to put together a list of available computer labs on campus to students in the afternoons and on weekends. While I tried to create a balance between the traditional classroom and blogger activities, at times I found myself intruding on students’ blogging time in the computer lab, explaining the previous lesson all over again. The key to creating and maintaining a balance between the two is a well-designed syllabus.

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